October 30, 1998

Millions of Dollars Being Spent In Battle Over Affirmative Action

OLYMPIA, Wash., (AP) - The fight over the fate of anti-affirmative action Initiative 200 is being waged on TV at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars supplied by special interests with a stake in the battle.

By the time the measure is decided by voters on Nov. 3, more than $2.3 million will have been spent to influence voters. The measure would ban preferential treatment of minorities and women seeking government jobs, contracts or admission to state colleges.

State records show that the money in this debate has not come from women architects or the smiling, multiracial children featured in many of the advertisements.

While each campaign counts more than 3,200 individual donors, the big money has come from special interest groups and companies with a political or economic stake in the measure.

The No! 200 campaign has raised three times more money than the initiative's advocates. As of Friday, opponents had raised $1.2 million to the I-200 campaign's $399,994.

Labor and teachers unions; companies such as Starbucks, Microsoft and Boeing; medical associations; civil rights organizations; and liberal philanthropists have given generously to the No! 200 campaign, unified by the belief that women and minorities still need affirmative action to level the playing field.

Corporate executives, construction contractors, wealthy civic leaders and conservative groups who believe preference programs are America's new form of discrimination have been the biggest donors to I-200.

Statewide polls conducted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in recent weeks have shown the initiative has the support of between 53 percent and 55 percent of the voters.

But money, which buys TV advertising, is a crucial measure of whether support for the initiative might shift.

The No! 200 campaign will have spent $580,000 on Seattle-area TV ads by Election Day on a campaign that tries to convince women the measure would cost them hard-fought progress.

The champions of I-200 are spending roughly $290,000 on TV spots in the Seattle and Spokane metropolitan areas. Their message: The time has come to make government programs color-blind.

While I-200's leaders are behind in fund raising, they have a powerful ace up their sleeve. The Sacramento, Calif.-based American Civil Rights Institute will spend $500,000 on ``educational ads'' about the initiative.

The non-profit lobbying group was founded by Ward Connerly, a driving force behind California's Proposition 209, the successful 1996 initiative that I-200 copied. ACRI wants to see racial and gender preference programs eliminated nationwide.

The state Public Disclosure Commission has said the institute's ads amount to advocacy for I-200. Connerly insists they're merely ``educational.''

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